Monday, May 31, 2010

MOMIX Botanica

Last night, AR and I went to the Joyce Theater to see the dance performance Botanica by MOMIX. I don't want to call this post a review, because I'm not qualified to review dance. I don't in fact go to many dance productions, but after last night I realize that I need to make a point of going more often because I enjoy them. This show in particular was excellent, the choreography superb. The MOMIX website states: “Known internationally for presenting work of exceptional inventiveness and physical beauty, MOMIX is a company of dancer-illusionists under the direction of Moses Pendleton. For 20 years, MOMIX has been celebrated for its ability to conjure up a world of surrealistic images using props, light, shadow, humor and the human body.” Last night’s show, Botanica, combined modern interpretive dance with props and costumes in a dreamlike paean to evolution and nature's cyclical existence, moving through all four seasons. Parts of it were humorous (even silly at times), but other parts were emotional (also in part because of the music), and all of it was charged with heightened eroticism (half-naked, very fit, beautiful people always helps). The Centaurs, where dancers made up the horse-half of the humanoid dancers, were amazing in their animalistic choreography. In some ways, the performance was like dance meets Julie Taymor meets Cirque du Soleil—a fascinating combination to say the least. The image above is from the opening sequence associated with winter (image: Shockingly, we paid only $59 for the tickets and had excellent seats in the orchestra section. Less expensive seats were available too. To pay so little to see a great show in NYC is almost unheard of, so it made the experience even more enjoyable. The YouTube video below shows you highlights of the performance, but if you want to see more, there is another longer YouTube video that gives you a sense of the entire show. If you get a chance to see MOMIX on tour, do so. You may find it a little odd at times, but you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review: New Paintings by Meera Thompson

This past Tuesday, RL and I went to an opening at the Atlantic Gallery to see an exhibition of new paintings by Meera Thompson. I've known Meera for a few years now through the library where I work, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to see her art in person. The triptych above, Suddenly, is one of the new paintings on display. All of the pictures in this exhibition are gouache, ink, and watercolor on handmade cotton paper. It is difficult to fully appreciate in digital format the strength of the works themselves. The texture of the paper, for instance, creates volumetric depth in its absorption of color, adding to a better appreciation of the tonality in the pictures. Her work is soothing, and this is reinforced by their size, designed for the domestic sphere. It would be challenging to compare them to, say, the monumental, masculinist color panels of Mark Rothko, designed for restaurants, corporate offices, and museums. Thompson instead sees her interpretation of color as evocative and sensual, and in this sense the smaller size of the pictures works beautifully.

Thompson is interested in the relationship between artist and viewer. In her artist's statement she notes, "This series of new paintings represents an endeavor to cross the divide between what the painter does and what the viewer sees--to construct a bridge that spans the painter's impulses and the viewer's responses." This conjures in my mind an image of an arched Japanese bridge stretching over a body of water, a la Claude Monet or Hiroshige, and the Japonisme reference is appropriate to Thompson's work. She is inspired in part by Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings, which have an exquisite aesthetic unto themselves, and you can see how her use of color references scroll paintings and Ukiyo-e prints. Indeed, in those works where she uses the triptych format (traditionally a Western religious art object), a Zen-like quality comes to fore, suggesting a juxtaposition of Western and Eastern spiritual philosophies. When I looked at these works in the gallery, however, I found myself thinking most about tonal poems by fin de siècle composers like Claude Debussy or Gabriel Fauré. This was especially true in the triptychs, where each work is independent but unites with its parts like movements in a concerto. This sort of tonalism harkens back to the work of the James McNeill Whistler, who titled his paintings symphonies and nocturnes, but in composition Thompson's work shares more with the tonalism of the less well known American artist, Thomas Wilmer Dewing.

Thompson's work was complemented in the gallery by an exhibition of wonderful line drawings by Jeff Miller. His portraits are skillful; he knows how to capture human form and give it personality. However, I prefer his more fluid line drawings of nudes whose attenuated bodies suggest the geometry of Paul Cézanne and the Jugendstil angst of Egon Schiele, all in a queer aesthetic that is simply a pleasure to behold. Thompson's and Miller's works are on display until June 19, at the Atlantic Gallery, 135 W. 29th St., Suite 601, in NYC.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Modern Art in May

The merry month of May has generated some interesting tidbits in the world of modern art that I thought I would share. For instance, one of my favorite modern artists, Franz Kline (1910-1962), deserves a shout out because it was his 100th birthday on May 23. Kline frequently is overshadowed by his fellow Abstract Expressionist colleagues Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, but I find his work to be enthralling in a way that is uniquely his own. I suspect it may be the persistant use of black and white, as you can see in the example here. In this painting, Nijinsky (1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Kline used the power of paint and brushstroke to epitomize action, for which the Ab Ex artists were well known. The title alludes to the ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, but at the same time it is sheer artistic expression on canvas. Kline’s breakthrough came when he began painting with large brushes and enamels frequently used by house painters. He then would overpaint it with bold strokes of white paint. His broad expressionistic strokes fly off the canvas, making you realize you are seeing just a microcosm of the larger experience of what the painting suggests. Despite the so-called spontaneity of Ab Ex painting, Kline would sketch his designs using the pages of telephone books until he came up with the pattern he most wanted. Even more fascinating is how his work conjures images of Chinese calligraphy. The connection isn’t so far-fetched: the so-called Qing Eccentrics in the 17th century used to create the same fluid motion when they wrote their poetry and painted their landscapes, allowing their spirituality and emotions to pour forth through the mechanics of their art, not unlike the Ab Ex group.

One of my favorite contemporary artists, the Nigerian-born British artist Yinka Shonibare (whose exhibition I wrote about in September), has been commissioned to erect a sculpture on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London. For the past few years, a new work is commissioned annually for this empty plinth. Last year it was performance art. This year, it’s a ship in a bottle, a work designed to commemorate Lord Nelson’s defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Guardian has great pictures that show how the work was put together. Workers literally slid into the mouth of the bottle to work on the details of the ship itself. The sculpture is scheduled to still be up in the fall, so hopefully I will get to see it when I’m in London.

Earlier this month, I had written about my visit to MOMA to see the thought-provoking and fascinating Marina Abramovic retrospective. The interactive performance piece, The Artist Is Present, continues until Monday, and the museum has captured photographically a number of individuals who have borne witness to the artist's intense visual interaction. Of course celebrities like Isabella Rossellini and Rufus Wainwright have now participated in this, but it is fascinating to see so many everyday people involved, not to mention their range of emotions in response to the work. Jerry Saltz has a review in this week’s New York magazine. He’s somewhat ambivalent about her work; he appreciates it, but he also finds it a little silly. In another article in the same issue, one of Abramavic’s performance artists, Deborah Wing-Sproul, talks about how she prepared to participate in the reinterpretations. There are pictures in the articles, so check them out, including one of Wing-Sproul participating in Nude with Skeleton, which I had noted was my favorite piece in the retrospective. Performance art consciously pushes the limits of the body beyond its natural abilities. I recently finished reading Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant, a novel about 16th-century nuns, some of whom fast and punish their bodies in order to see and feel the presence of Jesus. We now may call this spiritual ecstasy, but it's striking how performance art can be almost like that, albeit in secular form. Like yogis, performance artists push their bodies to attain a form of personal control and enlightenment.

Pablo Picasso is back on top in the “value of art” world. On May 4, his 1932 painting Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust) sold at Christie’s for a world-record price of $106.5 million. Picasso supposedly painted the picture in one day. CultureGrrl wrote a few posts about the sale, noting as she normally does with auctions that the actual hammer price was lower than this. Auction houses always add a buyer’s premium, which is their commission. Regardless, the point is that the unknown buyer spent that much in order to purchase the painting, quickly throwing out of the running the short-lived record from February when an Alberto Giacommetti sculpture sold at auction for $104.3 million. I guess it’s comforting to know that not everyone has been affected by the recession.

Then again, if you can’t afford to buy modern art, you could always try stealing it. Last week, someone broke into the Museum of Modern Art in Paris during the night and stole five paintings by some of the great masters of modern art: Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Amedeo Modigliani. It is suspected that the burglar had some inside help, because he was able to exploit a little-known problem with the security system, i.e. it was broken. What else can you say to that, except c’est la vie!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Return from the Sunshine State

My trip to Florida was filled with lots of events. The picture you see here is one I took of The Pier, a complex with shops, restaurants, and an aquarium in downtown St. Petersburg that stretches out into Tampa Bay. There has been some public building on this site since the 1880s, but the upside-down pyramidal structure was built in the 1970s. I was told that there are plans to start doing major renovations here--possibly even eliminate the building--because the actual pier foundation needs a major overhaul in its support structure. Although the building is a bit kitschy, I do hope they keep it, as it's been a great landmark for decades now.

My primary reason for going to the Sunshine State these days mostly revolves around the health and well being of a few seniors in the family, notably Padre, my uncle, and my aunt. Thus, there were almost daily visits to either one doctor or another and hospitals. No sooner after I arrived, for instance, my aunt fell and broke her hip, needing a partial hip replacement and subsequently physical therapy at a senior rehabilitation center. The good news is that by the time I left everyone was doing well, so that was a comfort. I also had a few dinners with cousins, and on one very hot and humid afternoon I went with my godchildren to Lowry Park Zoo. While there, we rode the carousel, saw lots of fun animals (loved the meerkats and penguins), and enjoyed a delicious chocolate ice cream cone (I say that because I'm not a big fan of ice cream).

The planned "Gay Boys Weekend" at the Flamingo was great fun. I had coordinated this trip with friends to belatedly celebrate my 40th birthday, the passing of my Oral Exam, and the submission of my dissertation proposal (which has been accepted with some minor changes...more on that in a future post). In the picture below are some of my friends and I at tea dance (notice a few Bears in the background...don't ask, long story). My friends came from NYC, Miami, and Houston. The "resort" itself was basically a roadside highway hotel, but the pool area was great, and their local drink special was a deliciously fizzy $3 concoction that (if I remember correctly) had Smirnoff pomegranate vodka, seltzer, and some sort of sweet syrupy flavoring (pink in color, of course). We ate out all the time, going one night to Central Avenue Oyster Bar for some great seafood and going twice to Pia's Trattoria for some of the most delicious, simple Italian cuisine with wonderful ambiance and service.

My trip ended with a few days in Jacksonville visiting SVH for her birthday and to see my canine nephew George the Greyhound. I've never been completely comfortable around large dogs (not sure why exactly), but he is the one large dog that I absolutely adore. We went to the dog park one morning and got a bit muddy playing with all the dogs. We also went to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, of course to see the animals, but also so that SVH could photograph the public displays of poetry that relate in part to the "Poetry in the Branches" campaign led by Poets House (actually located here in NYC). She is one of the organizers at the Jacksonville Public Library for this NEH-funded program to encourage people to read poetry.

All in all, it was a great trip, but it's good to be home. I'm already back to work and settling back into my groove here in Brooklyn and on bklynbiblio.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sunshine State

I'm heading to Florida for a couple of weeks, so bklynbiblio posts may be infrequent. I'll be in St. Petersburg visiting Padre and la famiglia. The image above is a great shot of one section of the downtown area of the city along Tampa Bay (image courtesy of Annalisa Weller's blog). Next weekend, friends of mine will be meeting me in St. Pete for a "Gay Boys Weekend" at the Flamingo Resort, which promises to be loads of fun. At the end of my visit, I'll be spending a few days with SVH and my canine nephew George in Jacksonville. I'm looking forward to sunshine, swimming, partying, zoos and dog parks, and just plain old relaxing! I even have my next novel ready for the plane ride: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now to finish packing...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

High Fashion: The Costume Institute Gala

Every May one of the highlights of the NYC social season is the Costume Institute Gala held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vogue editor Anna Wintour is the leader of this event, but shares the spotlight with new co-hosts each year. This year these roles were filled by Oprah Winfrey and Patrick Robinson, executive vice president for design at Gap. The picture above is Winfrey with designer Oscar de la Renta, who designed her gown. The gala is held at the museum in conjunction with the opening of the Costume Institute's annual spring/summer exhibition. This year the exhibition is American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, focusing on the recently acquired collection of women's fashions from 1890-1940 recently donated by the Brooklyn Museum (that institution is also hosting a related exhibition of other parts of the same collection, American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection).

The decor for the gala ball is always spectacular. When I left work yesterday, the boxes of flowers and the giant hot air balloon filling the Great Hall were suggestive of the more streamlined and sporty rising-middle-class American mode of living that perhaps challenged the traditional mode of aristocratic European fashion. Tickets for this event ranged in price but went up to $250,000. For this price, the 700+ guests in attendance had cocktails in the Petrie Court and dinner in the Temple of Dendur, plus live entertainment by Lady GaGa.
Of course photographers go crazy shooting all the celebrities on the red carpet up the Met's main staircase, catching a glimpse of their fashion hits and misses. The New York Times has an article about the event and a slideshow with fashion highlights, as does New York magazine. Emma Watson is all grown up and looked lovely, and Kristen Davis was quite elegant. But I don't know about Carey Mulligan with that petite dress or Tina Fey in that zipper jumper outfit...what were they thinking?? These two pictures are among my favorites. Mariska Hargitay, as always, looked stunning. As for the men, I think Jimmy Fallon was looking rather smart, don't you think? (Image credits: Hiroko Masuike for New York Times and Getty Images for New York magazine)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Week of the Arts in NYC

You would think that after passing my Oral Exam in art history I might want to avoid art-related things this week, but as it turns out, I've had a great week for doing artsy things that one can only experience in NYC.

Last Friday, for instance, I went with JHC to see the Marina Abramovic retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. I'm not into performance art all that much (requires patience!) and I really don't like video art (I get migraines!), but I decided to go because we wanted to see the naked people. Yes, in this retrospective, the Yugoslavian-born Abramovic has men and women--clothed and unclothed--reenacting her performance pieces from the 1970s to the present, including one in which a nude man and woman face one another and visitors are invited to walk between them (and not touch them as they have become works of art, but a few people can't resist copping a feel). As you can tell from what I've already written, I loved the exhibition. It was so much more interesting because it was arranged in one exhibition space. Most performance pieces are individual works in isolation; to see them in one group like this as an unfolding of a life's artistic career with archival film footage and live demonstrations made it more thought-provoking. Abramovic successfully uses the fourth dimension of time/temporality to make sculpture (i.e. the body) come to life. Her current live performance in The Artist Is Present, in which visitors are invited to sit across a table from her and gaze at one another in silence, seemed at first dry and boring, but the more you watched them the more you found yourself feeling the discomfort and tranquility of non-verbal communication. My favorite performance piece was Nude with a Skeleton, in which a naked man lies on a table with a human skeleton on top of him. As he breathes, the skeleton rises and falls along with his chest. It makes for a fascinating presentation of the memento mori, juxtaposing issues of life and death, and by framing it with a sexy nude Abramovic encourages us to challenge our ideas about what is sexual, erotic, and fetishistic.

On Wednesday evening, I invited RL to join me at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for a special talk given by the Director, Thomas P. Campbell: "Discovering History: The Met and the Ancient World." The presentation was about the Met's long history and interest in participating in archaeological digs, preserving artifacts, and educating people through publications and exhibitions on ancient cultures such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Mesopotamia. In part the talk served to offer an alternative perspective from the current trend of blaming museums of illegal acquisitions of ancient works. The talk was very interesting from a historical point of view, as Campbell used numerous historical photographs and a film showcasing this early part of the museum's history. The talk also was related to the exhibition Tutankhamun's Funeral that recently opened. (This, of course, has nothing to do with the highly-touted traveling exhibition of the treasures of King Tut from Cairo. Critics have been panning the blockbuster exhibition for focusing more on the spectacle of the pharaoh rather than presenting an accurate, scholarly exhibition to educate people, even though National Geographic is apparently a major sponsor of the show. Opening near Times Square with tickets selling for $28.50 each, I have no doubt that the exhibition is going to rake in a small fortune.)

Then on Thursday night I went with DC to the opening for the Hungarian Modernism show at the Shepherd & Derom Gallery on the Upper East Side. There weren't too many works on display that I liked all that much, but it was fascinating to see how early 20th-century movements like Cubism and Der Blaue Reiter influenced artists who may not have been in Paris or Munich at that time.

Last but not least, for my birthday PR & AM got me a ticket to go see with them the revival of La Cage aux Folles. We went last night. This new version opened a few weeks ago and stars Kelsey Grammer as Georges and Douglas Hodge as Albin. When it began, I felt like it was a bit campy (okay, aside from the obvious fact that it was about a drag queen night club), with lots of overacting and heightened melodrama. It also seemed outdated somehow, as if we'd heard all this before. But as the show continued, it got better and better. The music became more engaging, the acting improved, and the dance numbers with the "Cagelles" (see the image above) were fabulous. In fact, one of the great strengths of the musical was that the chorus of drag queens were all very muscular male dancers whose ability to do flips and twirls in heels and corsets made the whole performance even more amazing. Grammer was fine as Georges (sometimes his singing was off-key), but Hodge absolutely stole the show as his partner Albin (aka Zaza!). It's amazing to think this is Hodge's Broadway premiere. By the time the first act ended and he sang in full drag the song "I Am What I Am" you want to cry because of the intolerance that we know still exists in our world today. In that sense the show turned out to be more relevant today than ever before. To top it off, Georges and Albin share a big smooch at the end that makes you stand up and applaud for them. All in all, it was a fabulous way to end a week of great art-related events. What can I say: it's great to live in NYC.

UPDATE 5/2/10, 7:45am: As I was writing this post last evening, in particular about having been in Times Square to see a Broadway musical, someone was parking an SUV loaded with a bomb on the corner of 7th Avenue and 45th Street. NYC was saved from another potential terrorist attack because of the vigilance of a t-shirt vendor who noticed smoke coming from the car and smelled gunpowder. The entire area was evacuated last night. This morning, things are slowly getting back to normal. NYC is still an incredible place to live, especially for its arts scene, but it is worth remembering that 9/11 was only 8 & 1/2 years ago and we need to be aware.

US Military, Lady Gaga, and Ke$sha

One hopes that regardless of how we feel about America's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we all support our troops for their courage and patriotism. Apparently now we can support them for their music taste, dance productions, and video skills too! Certainly everyone needs to take a break, so it's actually great to see these videos with our military chilling out and doing their own version of some pop music. I've put links below to YouTube videos that I thought were hilarious and worth sharing. The first one is by members of the US Air Force Academy doing Ke$sha's "Tik Tok," which is followed by her actual video. The second is by US soldiers in Afghanistan doing Lady Gaga's "Telephone," followed by her actual video with Beyonce. That video, by the way, is great as a movie unto itself. Of course, the thing I find most amusing about all this is...people are concerned gays in the military??? Uhm, apparently their presence makes life a lot more enjoyable for our boys.